Professional Induction: So Little Time to Get It Right
By E. Scott England
Northside Elementary School
Indiana State University
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
A university supervisor once said, “Student teachers are great for a building because their positive attitude is infectious while renewing the energy in veteran teachers whom may have fallen into a rut.”
This is an interesting thought, yet at the same time, a bit alarming, isn’t it? We’re depending on a commodity to strengthen our work force that is not only dependent upon the supply and demand of candidates entering a profession that is currently under the siege of criticism by those who cannot teach, but also a commodity that doesn’t even stay in the profession once given the keys to enter.
The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (2003) reported, “After just three years, it is estimated that almost a third of the new entrants to teaching have left the field, and after five years almost half are gone” (p. 8). In other words, one out of every three student teachers that bound through our halls purposefully on a mission to change lives will be gone nearly as quickly as they entered.
Where does that infectious, positive attitude go?
Where do these young teachers go?
Teacher leaders and administrators are tasked with many duties in their ever-changing and demanding roles. While the mantra of one’s given focus is typically shared in terms of “students, students, students,” one of the most important duties should be that of talent scouting and taking care of the adults. In short, K-12 education should be figuring out how to keep its good teachers. Some say this can be done by improving working conditions (Ingersoll, 2002) and/or offering mentoring support (Darling-Hammond, 2003).
We might agree.
While working conditions can include salary, benefits, time, and support, we find the latter two particularly powerful, much more than the first two.
Most teachers entering the profession have an idea of what their salaries will be; they know the benefits as well. Further, most did not go into our noble profession extrinsically motivated. Yet, once arriving in our profession, teachers at times are given keys to their rooms, instructions on what to teach, and little more than that as everyone gets busy, real quick, as soon as the students arrive.
We feel for the teacher who must put in extra time outside of contractual hours trying to establish an inviting classroom by creating a meaningful educational environment and figuring out how to teach what is required with little or no resources or assistance. It is much more the exception than the rule nowadays, yet the reality still exists – and if for one . . . that’s too many.
Veteran teachers know what this feeling is like. Some went through the same thing, 10, 20, or 30 years ago. We have heard over the years veterans joke that this is a right-of-passage that teachers must endure in order to earn their keep. Any right-of-passage that cannibalizes our young and has reverberating effects upon school children is no one’s right, in our book.
Leaders need to step up to end this mentality, where it still lingers. A right-of-passage in teaching should be that feeling at the end of the year when students have made significant gains in learning. When students have that “Aha Moment” and are elated to share and thank a teacher.
One such important component to reframing a new teacher’s rights over the past few decades has been the advent of mentoring in schools, for those new in our profession. This has come about through a variety of circumstances, some discovered through good research on best practice and others through state mandate; nevertheless, it has shown some definite potential for enhancing one’s quality of life in the classroom.
Admittedly, some teachers have viewed mentoring as a waste of time, oftentimes because of assignment practices by building leaders (assigning veterans based on seniority, as extra pay is involved, would be one example). In any matching of persons and personalities, the right fit can never be ensured, and sometimes even with the best, most selfless intentions, things don’t work out. In other cases, an optimal match can be influenced by the structures put in place to support the relationships that we hope to foster, and the teaching and learning that mentoring can provide.
Let’s consider the university model. Support systems are in place for teacher candidates when they are student teachers. A university supervisor serves as a guide through that semester-long student teaching experience. This supervisor reviews lesson plans, offers suggestions, observes teaching, and makes the necessary criticisms and praises as the teacher candidate progresses. Then like that: The supervisor is gone, off to tend to a new flock needing guidance.
Could we offer similar structures in mentoring to our new teachers? A more clinicized practice of professional induction and training? Some states require this by statute, of course, yet why wouldn’t we do it, just because it’s common sense and the right thing to do?
What if three years of an intensive mentoring program led to not only higher retention in new teachers, but also provided a continual source of liveliness that infected an entire school? What if it helps spread a positive virus of collaboration, life-long learning, and fellowship? We call this social capital and understand that it has a positive impact on student achievement (Leana, 2011).
Mentoring can be relatively inexpensive to a school district (or even free to some). A possibility exists for two teachers to engage each other in learning—feeding off one another to create sensational lessons and learning opportunities. But buy-in must be present in both the novice and veteran teacher.
Not to mention, buy-in from the building’s leader.
Dr. Beth Whitaker at Indiana State University, in her role as the Director of the Faculty Center for Teaching Excellence, offers this to university faculty through a concept known as Teaching Triangles, where faculty members from different disciplines (and even mixed among undergraduate and graduate faculty) provide judgment-free feedback and collegiality by visiting each other’s classrooms over the course of a given school year. Not only do they learn from each other, but their camaraderie and connections made bond them together and provide the support and synergy that keeps faculty excited about their place in the profession. It makes for better teaching.
Could mentoring in K-12 be a triangle, expanding upon our current bi-angle, where it exists? Interesting thought. Maybe we should just get our bi-angle correct, before getting too radical.
All that said, it might be time we changed any old mindsets regarding professional induction where the “rights of passage” mentality still intersects with a “set-it-and-forget-it” reality. Retention and satisfaction must be at the forefront of a leader’s priorities.
Mentoring could be a cost effective way of improving a school.
Scott England and Ryan Donlan believe that the most powerful impact on our profession includes the new candidates that we bring in as first year teachers. If you would like to talk further with them about ways to “protect our new,” please feel free to contact them at [firstname.lastname@example.org] or email@example.com.
Darling-Hammond, L. (2003). Keeping good teachers: Why it matters, what leaders can do. Educational Leadership, 60(8), 6 – 13.
Ingersoll, R. M. (2002). The teacher shortage: A case of wrong diagnosis and wrong prescription. NASSP Bulletin, 86(631), 16 – 30.
Leana, C. (2011, Fall). The missing link in school reform. Stanford Social Innovation Review. 30-35.
National Commission on Teaching & America's Future. (2003). No dream denied: a pledge to America's children. Retrieved from http://nctaf.org/wp-content/uploads/no-dream-denied_full-report.pdf